U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Lesser of Two Evils?: A Qualitative Study of Offenders' Preferences for Prison Compared to Alternatives

NCJ Number
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume: 46 Issue: 3/4 Dated: 2008 Pages: 71-90
Alisha Williams; David C. May; Peter B. Wood
Date Published
20 pages
Given that recent research has found that many offenders prefer to serve prison time rather than any amount of a community-based sanction, the current study asked 618 probationers and parolees in Kentucky why a convicted offender might choose to serve any amount of prison time rather than serve an alternative sanction in the community, and vice versa.
The study found that respondents who had served both prison time and alternative sanctions under community supervision were more likely to prefer prison because it offered more predictability than community supervision, with its multiple behavioral conditions, strict supervision, emotionally abusive program administrators, and uncertainty about being cited for a violation that would put them in prison and extend the length of their sentence. Consequently, they perceived prison as less stressful. Respondents who had not been to prison tended to prefer a community-based alternative instead of prison because it enabled them to maintain their social ties in the community and avoid adverse prison conditions based on rumors they had heard about prison life. These findings continue to cast doubt on the effect of prison as the most powerful deterrent to crime. The findings even suggest that prior prison experience makes a person less fearful of prison and more willing to return to prison rather than serve time under community supervision. Most research on intermediate sanctions has determined that they are generally no more or less effective than imprisonment in reducing reoffending; however, they are typically less expensive than imprisonment, thus making them more cost-effective than imprisonment. Questionnaires were distributed to 618 probationers and parolees who were at 7 Kentucky probation/parole offices in the fall of 2003. The questionnaire included relevant questions regarding reasons why offenders might choose prison rather than community-based sanctions, and vice versa. 3 tables, 25 references, and 3 notes